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Investigation finds sprinklers could have prevented 5 deaths in Minneapolis high-rise fire

The deadly fire broke out at the Cedar-Riverside apartment block last November.
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A lengthy investigation into an apartment block fire that claimed five lives in Minneapolis the day before Thanksgiving 2019 has found that fatalities could have been prevented if an extensive sprinkler system was in place.

The building 630 Cedar Ave. S. in Cedar-Riverside had sprinklers in its basement and some lower-level common areas, but weren't standard throughout the building.

On Nov. 27, a fire broke out in the bedroom of an apartment on the 14th floor. Investigators have determined it was an accidental fire, but doesn't zero in on a single cause, saying "multiple possible causes were identified."

However, the building was built prior to mandatory sprinkler laws were enacted, with the Department of Public Safety investigation finding the deaths likely wouldn't have happened if one was in place.

"This tragic loss of life could have been prevented. The victims would still be alive had there been sprinklers throughout that entire building,” State Fire Marshal Jim Smith said.

"We owe it to the victims and their families to learn from this fire so we can prevent similar tragedies."

Jerome Stuart, 59, Nadifa Mohamud, 67, Maryan Mohamed Mohamud, 69, Amatalah Adam, 78 and Tyler Scott Baron, 32, all died in the fire from smoke inhalation.

As well as the lack of sprinklers, another problem that investigators found was that the self-closing doors in the building had been fitted with seals at the bottom of the doors that prevented them from closing automatically – likely to either prevent an infestation or to stop heat loss.

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Because the doors couldn't close – with the seal creating friction against rugs or carpets – it allowed fire and smoke to spread from the apartment of origin into the corridor and other apartments.

This was exacerbated by the windows "failing" in the apartment where it started – likely due to the heat – with strong winds from the north creating a “wind-driven fire" that was so fierce that those on the 14th floor would have had little time to escape down the stairs.

The DPS investigation is recommending that all high-rise buildings in Minnesota have fire sprinkler systems throughout, and is urging building owners to "discontinue the practice of propping fire doors open or placing objects in the path of the door that prevent it from closing in a fire."

The State Fire Marshal Division also recommends owners build fire separations for "scissor stairs" to form independent stair enclosures to provide at least two distinct paths of escape in the case of a fire. 

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